I attended a Trump rally in hope of meeting Trump supporters. Part of me didn’t believe they existed. But they do. I spoke with several. Some said rude things like: “you fucking raghead.” Others said boring things like: “I’m sick and tired of these illegal immigrants taking our jobs.”
The sad reality is Trump’s true believers are in person about what they look like on television: white people who feel disenfranchised, who will bully you if they outnumber you and will plead victimhood if they are outnumbered. At the Chicago rally they were outnumbered, which made things a little bit safer for the fucking ragheads in attendance.
Under ordinary circumstances it isn’t polite to comment on racial categories like “white” and “raghead” and so on. But the abhorrence of political correctness is one of the organizing principles of a Trump rally. I’ve never experienced another environment in this country in which one’s race was so open for comment.
Trump seems to confuse basic human decency with political correctness. Protesters aren’t getting roughed up? Too politically correct! Won’t suckerpunch a guy who flips you the bird? Too politically correct! Well, as Trump believers discovered in Chicago, political correctness runs both ways. Screw the lid off that pandora’s jar and what comes blowing back is a howling mob of thugs, cholos, anarchists, communists, socialists, Berninators, drug freaks, hijabs, shemaghs, beards, facial tattoos, dreadlocks—the stuff of wingnut night terrors.
The first act of violence I witnessed was a neckless white man, straight out of a pizza parlor, bumping against a fat lesbian. (I don’t know for sure if she was a lesbian, but appearances are what matter at a Trump rally.) She fell and screamed: “Officer!” Her sign said something like “Trump applies ketchup to his weiner.” No one helped her up, but cellphones flicked on to record the scene. The neckless guy sneered and turned his back.
The second act of violence occurred after Trump called off the rally. His supporters emptied from the venue onto Racine Avenue, cursing bitterly. You could tell the Trump people because they were white: brawny white men in sports jerseys, the kind who yell at the television during football games; bleach-blonde white sorority girls and their bleach-blonde white mothers; white deer hunters wearing camouflage caps and t-shirts decorated with threatening slogans about guns; smug white kids in suits and ties and baseball caps, the college golf team type.
Protesters streamed from the venue, intermixed with the Trump people. They celebrated their victory with chants like “Show us your dick!” and “Fuck Trump!” and “I don’t trust no motherfucker with fake hair!”
One Trump supporter muttered: “I waited ten hours for this?”
I had the idea to creep into the venue against the flow of traffic until two swinging doors crashed open and a photographer flew out, back-first, both feet off the ground. In midair, he flashed photographs of the security guard who had flung him through the doors. That was the second act of violence.
I saw signs of a third act of violence, a plate-sized spatter of blood, in the middle of the Racine and Van Buren intersection. I don’t know how it got there, although I heard people shouting about cops kicking a white girl in the head. Later that night, news footage showed a black man in police custody bleeding heavily from his forehead. That intersection was where the mob turned against the cops. “Fuck Trump!” became “Fuck the police!” and “Fuck twelve!” and “Sixteen shots!” and, in a surprisingly hopeful turn, “We gonn’ be all right!” This latter chant attracted a frenzy of leaping protesters who pressed against a police line to free one of their own who had been tackled by some sheriffs.
The main body of protesters massed on the south side of Harrison Street. They had a leader somewhere shouting exhortation through a megaphone. That’s also where most the cops convened. The protesters sang songs and bounced beach balls overhead. A young white man stood at the crowd control barricade on the north side of Harrison, facing the protesters across the street in the frozen posture of a Hitler salute. He didn’t look like he had any friends. There must have been a thousand voices shouting him down, some only inches from his face. Eventually the Illinois Nazi upturned his saluting hand to show a middle finger and drifted off toward Racine and Van Buren. The protesters cheered. Someone commented that guy would be murdered when he encountered the mob in that direction.
Outside the main doors of the pavilion, some college-aged white kids surrounded a pair of unusually short black girls. One of the white guys evidently thought the two girls were on welfare. He chanted mockingly: “I work for a living. I work for a living.” He jazzed his fingers. “Working hands. Working hands. I support myself. I support myself.” One girl said to the other: “Fuck these punk-ass, hillbilly-ass Donald Trump supporters.” They extricated themselves as the white kids smirked horribly. I heard the two girls a few minutes later wondering loudly where the weed at.
A series of earnest conversations took place along the westward face of the pavilion. That is where I met two Latinos for Trump. One cussed me out. The other told how his parents had immigrated through legal channels at significant personal cost. He didn’t like the idea of illegals taking shortcuts to citizenship through amnesty programs.
Veterans from either side recited their years of service and busted each other’s balls about who had it easier. One, the only black Trump supporter I saw, discussed his experiences at Fallujah. He had a service animal, a dog in a DO NOT PET harness.
An elderly Russian immigrant lectured a group of UIC students in barely decipherable English. He was against Bush and against Obama but for Trump. He said one ought not to vote for parties but for individuals. At one point he said: “I am for torture.” I asked him to repeat himself, thinking I heard him wrong. He shrugged. “In Soviet Union they torture, is not so big problem.”
Meanwhile, protesters surrounded the venue parking garage, trapping Trump supporters inside. I arrived on the scene after cops cleared a route of egress for the vehicles. One enormous black man broke through the skirmish line and blocked an SUV, Tiananmen-style. At length the cops wrestled him away.
We watched from the garage roof as cars, fancy cars from the suburbs, ran the gauntlet through the protesters. Drivers and passengers waved middle fingers and Trump placards through windows and sunroofs. The protesters screamed invective. From above we saw a protester scraping up pebbles from the curbside to throw at the vehicles. One of her fellows intercepted her, apparently asking her to stop.
A mournful Trump supporter looked down on the scene. He wore a tie and a red sweater vest. He said: “Such hateful people.” And: “Is this what America has come to?” He admitted ruefully that Trump “can be a little brash at moments, sure.” But he rejected the idea of Trump as an obsessive self-aggrandizer. In his view, Trump’s fantastic riches were proof of his pure motives. What else could he want but to make America great again?
That was the last Trump supporter I spoke with and the most troubling. That guy had no obvious reason to forgive the poison of Trump’s rhetoric. He was a buttoned-down, white church-goer who appeared to care for the wellbeing of his fellow man. I would have pegged him as a compassionate conservative type. He ended our conversation with a courteous “God bless,” and wandered off. The vitriol of the evening obviously astonished him. I don’t think he felt safe around my group when he realized our political orientation.
Part of the problem is the language of the campaign. Donald Trump created a safe space for punitive violence, for Nazis, for klansmen, for our most electrifying racial slurs. He is a black light in a seedy motel, illuminating the streaks of gunk and snot smeared into the upholstery. To dissenters in the heart of Chicago, protesting a Trump rally was as close as they could come to strangling Hitler in his cradle. What would you do if you could attend the Nuremberg rallies? What would you say to the Nazis gathered there?
But Trump, in all his chintzy glory, is no Hitler or Mussolini. No reason or ideology propels his candidacy. What does he care if the trains run on time? He is a Berlusconi. Pure id. As someone told the sweater-vest Trump supporter on the garage roof: “My main problem with Trump is less about him being a racist and more about him just being a full-on joker.”
The crazy thing is how Trump people keep missing the joke.